In the cold winter of 1846-47, the Donner Party, a group of West-bound pioneers, was trapped by 22 feet of snow in the Sierra Nevada (which appropriately means snowy mountains in Spanish) where nearly half of them died (and some resorted to cannibalism). It's an easy drive these days along Interstate 80 between sites associated with this tragic winter like Donner Memorial State Park and civilization (not to mention sit-down restaurants), so there's nothing morbid about a detour through these parts. Truckee, the nearest high-mountain town, provides all the tourist amenities that the Donner Party could only have wished for over a century ago, and equipped with an airport offers ready access to other area attractions including Lake Tahoe, to the south.
Truckee history is preserved in its downtown, where many of the buildings have stood for over a century, reminders of an earlier era when this was a rowdier place. Though noisy saloons and busy gambling houses no longer set the pace, visitors can get a glimpse at least of Truckee's wilder days on a walking tour of historic sites. One of the earliest ski resorts in the United States, Hilltop Lodge, no longer serves the slopes but serves up instead food and drinks in its reincarnation as a restaurant. Also local is an Emigrant Trail Museum and Pioneer Monument, with the Donner Party story the focus.
In addition to atmospheric historic sites and assorted galleries within Truckee city limits, find in the immediate vicinity a good assortment of outdoor activities, from rafting runs down the Truckee River in season to rock climbing, hiking and boating or swimming on nearby Donner Lake. There are eight downhill ski resorts within a short drive of Truckee, and a good clutch of official cross country ski areas, so plan to keep that heart rate up no matter the season.
Truckee is about 31 miles west of Reno and about 12 miles north of Kings Beach and Tahoe Vista via Highway 267, communities on the north shore of Lake Tahoe.